Saturday, July 12, 2014

The First Ever Young Adult Literature Conference. YALC

Well, no guesses as to what this blog is about. Yes that's right, I've been at the YALC all day and now I'm going to tell you all about it.

It was my first time at a convention/conference type event in this set-up, i.e all in one space, and it was slightly unusual being an event within an event. (The YALC took place within the LFCC - London Film and Comic Con.) But that just meant that when you weren't bumping into your favourite authors, catching a panel, or taking a workshop, you were dodging countless Spidermen, admiring the more zany costumes on offer, and probably trying to take a picture of someone from Game of Thrones, or Giles from Buffy.

There was so much to do and see, and despite having to queue an hour to get in - Early Bird Ticket, my ass - and once entering there being no indication of where the Book Area was..........the organisers were definitely relying on chaos to see them through.....the whole thing ran ridiculously smoothly and most importantly, I got tickets for the panels I wanted. Muhahahahaha.

The YALC had its own beautiful area, strewn with books, books, books and more books. There was a book exchange where you could swap a book for another. There were places to purchase books from the many authors appearing at YALC and of course, loads of others. There were people promoting their own self-published books and graphic novels, and there were competitions to enter and free stuff to be had. The freebie stations were filled with badges, postcards, posters, bookmarks, pens, wristbands and chocolates, with something for everyone and lots of them themed to your favourite characters and series. A brightly coloured bean bag section gave the opportunity to chill with a book and just absorb the sheer enormity of the whole thing.

 I have to say I think the YALC section was very well organised and it was only when the super crazy popular authors were signing that it became a little tricky to manoeuvre the giddy crowds. But that's to be expected when you have such gems as Malorie Blackman - Children's Laureate -  Patrick Ness, Darran Shan and Amy McCulloh at the same event. And actually it was fabulous to see the lines and lines of people queuing with their books. The power of the written word is stronger than ever, especially in YA, and I think everyone out there today proved that.

 I just loved this display. So simple and yet so perfect.
 Loads of wonderful books in a huge range of styles and genres, all encapsulated within the grand title YA, and connected by rainbow strands showing a diverse set of writers, readers and stories, coming together.

Oooo. Freebie station.

There were lots of interesting exhibitors and self published authors there, which was interesting. Go and talk to them if you are attending tomorrow. They want to tell you about their books and they want to introduce themselves. Just getting their name out there and on the lips of the YA crowd is what they want, so take a card and tell your friends and check them out.

First Panel: The End of the World as we Know it: The Ongoing Appeal of Dystopia

Okay, so kicking off the YALC panels was the Children's Laureate herself: Malorie Blackman. But not in English. Oh no no no. In Klingon, and in costume. Genius! Just honoured to be in the same general area as her, let alone hearing her master the Klingon tongue and talk about Dystopia and YA.  Accompanying her were two fantastic authors which I have read a lot of: Sarah Crossan and Patrick Ness. No surprises this one was a sell out! What a trio. 

 Malorie just wants to have fun!
 The Klingon Address
Look at the little lovelies. All three of them. 

So we learnt a lot from our intrepid authors. We were taught about the hope of the Dystopia - the whole world's gone to shit, but maybe just maybe, we can make it slightly less shit.

They discussed the idea of a Utopian novel as BORING! And I think we'd all agree. No one wants a fictional world to be perfect. No one wants a character without conflict, or a plot with no ebb and flow, no conflict and resolution. Not only is it unrealistic, but it is giving the reader nothing to latch on to, very little to identify with and most people would be asleep by page fourteen....if they lasted that long.

They also treated us to a glimpse into the future of Dystopia, because yes, Dystopia has a future and a brutally dark one at that, with perhaps a smidge of hope. Yes!

The Q&A brought up the usual age boundaries questions which I can imagine most authors are sick to the back teeth of. But their collaborative response was very polite and along the lines of: Kids will read what they want to read. If you try to stop them, they will find a way and if they are not ready for something they will stop reading. Also they broached the idea of ageless books, which I heavily agree with, because some people need or want to read down, but might be too embarrassed to buy a book with a specific age on the back. It's really important that kids and teens are not put off when reading for pleasure, as it is something to be encouraged, not beaten out of them by fear of bullying or feeling stupid, or feeling less than what they are.

A fantastic panel to kick of YALC in style and class.

Just a couple of quotes from the authors:

Sarah Crossan on age and suitability. 'They buy the books they want to read.' And following on from that Sarah discussed how a huge variety of styles and genres is integral to YA and it's readers, and that it is important this variety remains available to all.

Patrick Ness on age, made his thoughts very clear, in that he is 'against ageing on books.' He interestingly added that no matter when your book is set, past, present or future, 'every book is about right now.'

Malorie Blackman on criticisms or complaints about her books. She answered: 'If someone is not criticising one of my YA books, then I've failed.'

The authors then further cast their magic by sitting and signing their books for hours, as well as taking part in more panels. Such dedication to fans and general niceness.

Workshop: Finishing Your Book

I was lucky enough to be picked to take part in the 'Finishing Your Book' workshop, with Kim Curran. (You sign up for the workshops on the day and then if they are oversubscribed they pick names at random. Whoop! I got in.)

Unfortunately, hearing our lovely speaker was difficult as she had to compete with a microphoned and amplified panel going on twenty metres away, when all she had was her voice. It was difficult to hear everything that was asked from other members of the group, but I did catch most of what Kim was saying. It was quite a nice quick up the backside for me, as I've written a series of novels, and am attempting - and failing - to get them represented by an agent, but am also trying to move on to something else. Having had so many years in that head space with those characters and that world, getting out of it and fully immersed in another, is proving difficult. But Kim steered me in the right direction, told it to us straight, and gave the verbal kick up the backside we all need every once and a while.

  • Kim talked about Road Blocks as opposed to the fictitious writer's block, which is boolocks and a nice excuse for slight laziness or periods of little productivity. These are essentially excuses we make, tunnels of despair, and the millions of distractions, not least of all that pesky internet. 
  • She talked about skipping sections that you're struggling with, especially if you know what happens later. Don't just sit and stare when you could be writing a scene for later in the book. 
  • She also told us to know our endings. You have to know the goal, the outcome of your story and what that means for the characters. 
  • Kim talked about making a satisfying ending for you the writer and to not just tack on a happy ending. The ending has to fit the story, and even if it is dark and filled with despair, try and shine the tiniest flame of hope. Or if a nice rounded, goodies beat the bad guys ending, and all is well, then try leaving a, but.....

Panel: Bring Me My Dragons: Writing Fantasy Today

Yay! This was a class panel, all about fantasy in YA, with a quite fantastical array of authors. Francis Hardinge, Jonathan Stroud, Amy McCulloh and Ruth Waburton. 

A beautifully articulate group with lots to say and plenty of laughs. 

Even within 'Fantasy' each author was so different in their ideas, plots and approaches, again highlighting that diversity within YA and the fact that boundaries are being pushed, or abolished, and there is always 'room to play' (Francis Hardinge). 

Despite their differences in style and genre, they agreed on a lot of things such as morality within their books, that they would never knowingly insert a manifesto and expect people to follow that, or try to shape their readers' views. They agreed that views and opinions can be thrown into the books in order to address the reader with something to thing about, but then the point is for them to make up their own mind. 

The panel discussed heroes and villains and how they can often come from the same place and it can be a matter of a few small decisions that send one on the path to Villainhood and one to Hero or Heroine status. They discussed what YA means to them and had a few questions from the audience. This panel over ran a few minutes but it was well worth it. 

And to finish here are some quotes from each of the authors of this session:

'Know as much as possible about the world' you are creating. (Amy McCulloh) On world creation.

Being 'suspicious of other people's ideology.' (Ruth Waburton) On morality messages.

'I have claimed Volcanoes against tax.' (Francis Hardinge) On the joys of research and where it might take you.

A book 'it's never finished. It's a continuity. It's a beginning not an end.' (Jonathan Stroud) On when do you know your book is ready?

Fantastic speakers, fantastic panel topic and unfortunately my last event of the day, due to feeling terribly unwell beneath those lights in Earl's Court. The heat and light was oppressive and causing me all sorts of headaches and stuff, and so I had to pass on the final panel, which would have been Heroes of Horror. Gutted! But I did however, manage to give my tickets to some lovely girls that hadn't got any and I made their day. 

The other panels and workshops included:

Superfans Unite, Going Graphic and Re-imagining Famous Characters. 

Other workshops included:

Planning and writing a kick-ass YA novel, Starting to write, writing historical fiction, the art of blogging, and getting started with graphic novels. 

All events were full to bursting and I'm sure all involved will scream of their success. Thank you to all the organisers, volunteers, support and tech staff that kept it all ticking along nicely. Thank you to the authors, of course, for giving up their time to talk about their craft and to share the joys of YA. 

I'll be returning tomorrow, for more panels, more authors and books books books galore. 

Thanks for reading. I know it's not my usual rant-a-long, but really there wasn't much to rant about today. So many positives and so much amazing exposure for YA and it's authors.

Good night


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